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Survey of squirrels and pine martens needs help from Irish public

Red squirrel (Photo: Joe Kilroy)

The Irish public is being invited to participate in a survey seeking to determine the latest distribution of red and grey squirrels and the pine marten across the country.

The survey, headed by researchers from the Ryan Institute in NUI Galway and the Ulster Wildlife and Vincent Wildlife Trust, will record sightings of the three mammal species during 2019.

The results will allow the team to compare the current status of the animals with previous surveys conducted in 1997, 2007 and 2012.

Since their introduction in 1911, the grey squirrel has spread throughout a large area of the island of Ireland.

The red squirrel, although still quite widespread, has disappeared from many forests as a result of competition and disease spread by the greys.

Dr Colin Lawton, a Zoologist in the Ryan Institute at NUI Galway, said: “This is a fascinating story where the recovery of one native species, the pine marten, has slowed the progress of an invasive species, the grey squirrel. The red squirrel, another native species, has shown signs of recovery as a result.”

Pine Marten (Photo: Ronald Surgenor)

In the most recent survey in 2012, however, there were indications that the grey squirrel had retreated in certain areas, and this has been attributed to the recovery of another native species, the pine marten.

The pine marten has made a considerable recovery in Ireland, since it became protected under the Irish Wildlife Act of 1976 and the Wildlife (NI) Order 1985.

In the midlands of Ireland and Fermanagh, where pine marten densities are highest, grey squirrels have disappeared.

“The public are absolutely critical for data collection on this scale and indeed for conservation efforts for red squirrels, pine marten and other species right across the island of Ireland,” Conor McKinney, from Ulster Wildlife, added.

Members of the public can record their sightings using the 2019 All-Ireland Squirrel and Pine Marten Survey pages hosted by the National Biodiversity Data Centre in the Republic of Ireland and CEDaR in Northern Ireland.

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